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Six Steps to Conduct a Successful Hackathon

Conducting a virtual hackathon isn’t as easy as it may seem. It requires as much effort and dedication from the organizer, as it does from the participants. We list out six steps that can serve as a starting point


Hackathons open doors to ideas that explore new ways of solving a problem. They can be transformative, analytical and a great approach to problem solving. No matter your skillset – tech, business, designing, there couldn’t be a better way to set your creative side free. In today’s era, the success of an industry depends on how receptive it has been to change and how open it has been to new innovations. To move ahead of their competitors, companies are ramping up their investment in innovation by reaching out to communities inside and outside the organization, rather than relying on just a handful of people in their R&D department. For this, companies are always finding new approaches including, but not limited to innovation challenges, hackathons, coding challenges, talent hunts, etc. Online hackathons can generate tremendous amounts of value, which can be useful for rapid innovation development. Within just a few days, teams are able to brainstorm, develop, test, and showcase ready to use prototypes or ideas that may expand into full-scale services or products. Regardless of the final solutions, the Hackathon will start a conversation centering around the problem, and give the host company new ideas and perspectives. After conducting multiple successful hackathons and gearing up for the next one, conducting virtual Hackathons does come with its own set of rules, and these are six steps that serve as a starting point.

The Six Steps:

What’s the Purpose?

Deciding on the purpose of why the hackathon is to be conducted is the best way to initiate the structure of your challenge. Is the Hackathon being organized simply to foster a community or network of like minded people? Is it to find a solution to a problem that your organization is facing or may face later? Is it to spread awareness and spearhead solutions for social good? Defining the purpose will inform your other decisions and processes. For example, a community focused Hackathon may emphasise on features that aid interaction between participants.

Get the ideas flowing!

Start this by opening the ideation process to the public. This would provide a safe environment where participants can brainstorm, share their ideas, and form teams. A major benefit of the process is it’s an easy way for people who don’t know what they want to develop during the hackathon to find an idea they would like to join in, submitted by someone else. Also, this would also help in forming teams.

The process itself is straightforward — collecting ideas and making them public right as you get them. - Edgar Aronov

Setting a Schedule

Pick a date that would work for all! Hackathons are often held on weekends so as to make sure not to get into the routine of people’s work. Avoid public holidays (keep in mind the different time zones of your potential participants) and make sure to announce the dates in advance and keep up the communication and hype. Prior to the commencement of the hack, make sure the teams and the participants have enough time to interact with each other, get around the tools and resources they are allowed to use during the hackathon. Even a couple of friendly competitions can add a lot of fun to the hackathon! During the #DigitalDefence Hack, Hackmakers organised a couple of informal and friendly challenges with prizes of their own, this adds value to the excitement, enjoyment and the fun factor of the hackathon.

Start Hacking!

This is the most crucial step of the hackathon for the participants. Whatever be the duration of the hackathon, (i.e. 2-3 days) hackers get busy building a prototype of their solutions which they would later have to showcase to the judges.

This is a vital stage for the organizers too. All resources and information pertinent to the Hackathon will need to be easily accessible to all participants. Support through organizers and mentors is also essential.

Evaluation & Results As the hackathon finishes, the participants are required to submit their prototype solutions which would then be evaluated by the judges as per the designed evaluation criteria. It’s important to have clear instructions on how the solution must be presented. Announcement of the results is definitely an important part of the hackathon as well. Make sure to appreciate all the participants for their efforts, partners and sponsors for their support and resources. The winners can then be interviewed regarding their journey of the hackathon – how they solved the problem, came to the solution and how they think their solution might fix the problem stated for the hackathon.

Reflection & Retrospect This is the most crucial step from the organiser’s perspective. Also called retrospective, this is a process to take a look at

  • How the Hackathon fared – how many expectations were met or exceeded

  • What went wrong / not as well as expected?

  • What feedback was received from the participants as well as the organizers

Retrospectives provide the opportunity for a team to look back and see how they can improve. Hackathon organizers facilitating innovation need to keep innovating too.

In Conclusion

A factor to remember throughout is communication. Lack of clarity and understanding can lead to a misunderstanding or the rules / guidelines, confusion amongst the participants and messes for the team to sweep up. An efficient Virtual Hackathon depends on clear, precise and accurate communication to and amongst the participants, mentors, organizers and judges.

Click Here to sign up for our upcoming #SmartCities Hackathon.

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